Monday 28 February 2011

Oh Scotland!

Late night, early start and a full day has prevented me blogging on yesterday's trip to Murrayfield. Scotland were pipped to their third 6 Nations defeat by Ireland and a Wooden Spoon battle looms against a rumbustuous and blossoming Italian side who are beginning to compete seriously up-front in international rugby.

In all fairness it was a much improved performance after the Welsh debacle. Another slow start from Scotland and I was worried after ten minutes that we were going to witness another no-show which would have raised questions about the relationship between the players and the manager following the Wales game. Instead we kept in touch on the scoreboard and a second-half push meant we got within 3 points of Ireland at the finish and there was a lot of nail-biting around me from the visitors who included Roy Keane and his Missus who were on my flight up and down from Stansted.

Twickenham in a fortnight then, when I suspect it could be a long 80 minutes that casts an even longer shadow on the denouement of this years campaign. I will ensure that I am appropriately anaesthetised but not enough not to enjoy the game, just in case we can make a real match of it. I'll save that for afterwards.

I need cheering up and expect Charlton to put the smile back on my face tomorrow night. They will have to do it without Pawel Abbott who has left the club for the Polish league. No big loss and he probably wouldn't have made the side in any event, but I wish him well - he was at least a trier.

Saturday 26 February 2011

Notts County 1 v Charlton Athletic 0

Well we were a tad unfortunate not to get at least a draw in this poor quality League One match. The pitch didn't help but they had to play on it too. I said last week that the Exeter defeat was a watershed this season in terms of saying goodbye to any thoughts of automatic promotion and the result last night has underlined that. 

It was another ambitious formation with three strikers being deployed although we played closer to a 4-4-2 than the very obvious 4-3-3 against Exeter. I won't run through the game as you probably saw it for yourself but we lacked any cohesion when going forward. Critically there was no support from central midfield. I called for the return of Thierry Racon and, frankly, he made no improvement on McCormack. Surely we will sign a loanee to play in this vital position before much longer?

Missing penalties is unacceptable for a striker of Bradley Wright-Phillips' ambitions and his second-half strike was very poor and went with an indifferent performance from him where he lashed wildly at everything. Nathan Eccleston showed more composure but was given very little time and his best contribution was well saved by the County keeper who came out very quickly to block. 

I thought Wagstaff brought pace and urgency when he came on, something Kyle Reid didn't. The problem was that neither managed a cross that I can recall. Racon was all over the place and I am really tired of his pleas for fouls every time he goes to ground. It's a hangover from Phil Parkinson's days when we had divers all over the pitch and Chris Powell needs to get to grips with it. It was also an unnecessary foul from Racon that lead to the ridiculous goal which skidded in off a backside and a shin. 

The back four had a solid enough showing after the mess that was Exeter City and I think Jenkinson deserves praise for another good performance. He was a regular outlet for the back four yesterday and gets forward with urgency. He doesn't look like he is capable of playing a straight pass but his angled delivery is unorthodox and he does try to find players coming into the box.

The third successive defeat and we will now play two home games under a pressure we could do without out. In terms of the season, it really is now just about finishing in the play-off places and getting another roll of the dice. If you look at the table, sixth is probably the aim with our games in hand on MK Dons but we know we have a sticky patch of matches approaching and momentum is not with us right now.

In the scheme of things, it is probably too much to expect Chris Powell to revive a flagging promotion push in his first lone managerial job when he inherits a squad of players who themselves were hastily thrown together with little or no budget. He needs at least six months in which to shape the side and get them playing his brand of football. Even then, it will be a tall order to expect promotion.  If we were fortunate enough to scrape up through the play-offs, you would have to be concerned with the quality of our squad in terms of competing next season. After years of being a yo-yo club from the Premier League, I certainly don't want to watch it in the Championship. When we go up next, I want us to have a side that can compete in the Championship and that restores us to our correct level in the national game with aspirations for once-again punching above our weight.

Friday 25 February 2011

League One Weekend Preview, Game 30

I attended a thoroughly enjoyable City Addicks evening with Eddie Youds and Garry Nelson last night (well done Brenda). They make an excellent double-act and it was good to hear them recounting tales about events we are familiar with as well as their views on others players and the game in general. For those who were present, here is a link re the prolific sportsman, Gerry McElhinney, aka Cyclops.

This evening I will be glued to Sky Sports as the Addicks look to steal a march on their play-off rivals by winning a second away game under Chris Powell. The mud patch at the County ground is the venue and we will need to be bold if we are to get anything as County will throw the kitchen sink at us in search of their ninth home win of the season. Having only been held at home once it looks like it may well be a case of all-or-nothing.

Having matched our best winning sequence of four games, we have now matched our worst losing streak of two on the spin and a third would mark the end of the Honeymoon period for Chris Powell. It was interesting to read the two-page spread on Powell in the sub-Standard last night. Much of it was are-telling of how nice a bloke he is and how he got the job etc but he revealed that Sven Goran-Ericsson is his mentor and he aspires to be a calm and considered manager, not a cup-thrower like Jim Smith in his Derby County days. Powelly is also telling an honest story about his love of the passing game and his intentions to turn us into a south of the river Arsenal, also he made the point that it takes more of our cultural heritage in terms of the physicality of the game to get out of League One. I suspect that's what we will see this evening and it's a match that Eddie Youds and Garry Nelson may both have excelled at in their day.

Tomorrow we get to see how the others get on...

Notts County v Charlton Athletic
Honeymoon over I fear. Westcarr and Hughes will ask a lot of questions and our back-line will need better protection from midfield than they were given against Exeter and we can't afford any howlers. Attack really is the best form of defence, especially when you have the pace and threat of Eccleson and Wright-Phillips. To this successfully, however, you need an engine room firing on all cylinders and again, that's the weakest link at the moment.
Prediction; 2-1

Brentford v Bristol Rovers
A straightforward home win but the Bees aren't so predictable. It took a 91st minute goal in the week for them to overcome Tranmere and Rovers will come and park the bus in front of their goal.
Prediction; 0-0

Carlisle United v Sheffield Wednesday
Carlisle have rallied of late whilst the Owls are paying the penalty for a premature change of manager. One of my pre-season promotion tips, (with Southampton and Brighton), they are now languishing in 16th place. Could be a long day and long faces for those crossing t'Pennines.
Prediction; 2-1

Dagenham & Redbridge v AFC Bournemouth
Second-bottom versus second-top here. They can't, can they?
Prediction; 0-2

Exeter City v Hartlepool United
These sides sit next to each other in solid mid-table with near identical records. Exeter will be buoyed by their good fortune in front of 25,000 at the Valley and should have enough here.
Prediction; 2-0

Huddersfield Town v Leyton Orient
If the O's can carry on their current renaissance then they could do us a big favour at the Galpharm. However, they have an exciting Cup replay at the Emirates in the week and I suspect they may lack concentration here.
Prediction; 3-0

MK Dons v Brighton & Hove Albion
Looking at this fixture realistically, we should be rooting for a Brighton win. It won't be easy but after knocking the stuffing out of Plymouth in midweek I can see taking the lead here and holding it.
Prediction; 0-2

Oldham Athletic v Peterborough United
Good home meets poor away here, so three points for the Latics who may climb above us in the table.
Prediction; 2-0

Plymouth Argyle v Colchester United
Argyle need to win five in-a-row if they are to have any chance of avoiding League Two football next season. With their debt crisis that could be the least of the problems. Low team morale will be a big problem but Colchester could be there for the taking.
Prediction; 1-1

Southampton v Swindon Town
Plymouth's ten point deduction has thrown Town a lifeline and wit Mike Grella brought in on loan to score the goals Charlie Austin used to, they have half-a-chance. Saints have been unconvincing t St. Mary's this season but are grinding out the results and they should do so again here.
Prediction; 2-0

Tranmere Rovers v Yeovil Town
Tranmere are actually above Yeovil in the table and a win here would see them heading for the relative luxury of mid-table. It's a long journey back to Somerset.
Prediction; 2-0

Walsall v Rochdale
A rare chance for the Saddlers to move out of the drop zone. Dean Smith has brought an improvement to results but you can't polish a turd as the saying goes.
Prediction; 1-2

Tuesday 22 February 2011

Still number one in South-East London (not that there was any doubt)

Prior to Saturday's bumper Valley attendance, we were averaging 15,318 for home league matches. Palace were just behind with 14,766 and Millwall were trailing on 11,835. After the fiver-for-all promotion, our average has been hoicked up to 15,948. It would be great to think we can break the 16,000 average mark but I think that would need another offer-inspired near full-house before the season finishes. 

Our second biggest home gate of the season against table-toppers Brighton was 18,949 and still bigger than Millwall's 16,70 for the visit of Palace or Palace's own 17,488 for their first match of the season having survived going out of business. Millwall's play-off push has helped their average gate, which would surely have dipped to four figures had they had a season like Palarse. The Eagles look like they will be too good to go down but one wonders what would happen next season without Darren Ambrose's goals. Fingers-crossed.

Either way, our Valley crowd has held up once again and it must irk Millwall and Palace fans that we remain a more attractive proposition in League One than they do in the Championship.  

Sorry to see Plymouth Argyle go into Administration and take a ten point hit yesterday. They now go bottom on 23 points and that will spell a double relegation for Argyle and surely the end of Peter Reid's involvement as well as the Grim Reaper who moved to distance himself unconvincingly a couple of weeks ago.

Sunday 20 February 2011

Losing ground

The week ahead sees the six sides above us play on Tuesday and we face the prospect of going to Notts County on Friday knowing that a win there still might not be enough to get back into the play-off places.

Yesterday's result will stand out at the end of the season as the one where we lost the chance to stay in the hunt for the automatic places. It's not the end of the world and we are still in contention with our games in hand for a play-off finish, although I can still see us ending up short.

There is a lot of negativity around about the fact that it was "typical Charlton"  yesterday, in that we let ourselves down in front of 24,000 home fans. We shouldn't beat ourselves up over it. The fact is we managed to pull that number in and it seemed to me like many were genuine first-timers for whom the result may not have been the be-all and end-all. The size of the stadium and the gate may have been enough to make more of an imprint on the minds and memories than the result. It certainly wasn't the memory of a winning performance that I think of when I first fell for Charlton. The Valley, our locality and our supporters were just as compelling as the quality of the football.

I hope Messrs Slater and Jimenez are encouraged to get back on the horse and repeat the feat in the not too distant future. Wouldn't it be great to finish the season with another full-house against the Monkey-Hangers?

Saturday 19 February 2011

Charlton Athletic 1 v Exeter City 3

I predicted a routine home win here but was oblivious to history as well as the slings and arrows of good fortune.

As I have said before, we have been scraping wins against the odds and that good fortune simply doesn't last. We have been there or thereabouts all season and our luck has held. Today, we played much better over 90 minutes than we have since Chris Powell took the reigns but the first-half wasn't good enough to have established a lead and we threw our second-half opportunity away.

In front of a near 25,000 crowd, we chose to play a adventurous 4-3-3. Dailly and Doherty were joined at the back by Fry and Jenkinson. Semedo, Jackson and McCormack held the middle whilst Eccleston, Abbott and Wright-Phillips played up front in an ambitious formation. The frontline was wrong for me and Abbott effectively split the attack for the worse.

McCormack had another very average match and you find yourself wondering why he's on the pitch. He is ultra-cautious and seems capable of little more than negativity. With Semedo protecting the back four and Johnnie Jackson looking unsure about his part, we looked like a soft centre. Having said that we had a much better first-half in ages without breaking the deadlock. 

Having hit the bar and gone desperately close to scoring, we surrendered the lead to a soft ball to the back of the box and a neat finish. Doherty did his nut but I was unsure who he was blaming. Five minutes later he gifted the Grecians their second with a diabolical head-back and it was game over. Elliot managed to concede a third following a rash edge-of-box challenge but it was academic. 

Mrs Luck has caught up with us as expected and we can have no real complaints at sitting outside the play-off places in the table. It's where I think we will finish and before long we will be looking towards next season. Hopefully our new benefactors will be able to spend the sums required to give Chris Powell a better chance next season. 

The marketing of today's game was another perfect example of how clubs like ours can get it right, even if we always seem to piss on our chips. Jimenez and Slater appear to have their fingers very close to the pulse and they have made a series of very good calls since taking over. It was great to see a good number of old faces who obviously can't afford 2011 prices.

Friday 18 February 2011

Enamel badges - ours

Ok so you might not collect other club's badges, but I bet you have more than one of ours? I have tried to acquire every new one I have seen in the last thirty years and have circa 100 now, although I am aware that we have a bit of a history with these badges that are pretty rare.

As I said the other day, for so long in my youth there was only one badge - the white shield with the words "Charlton Athletic surrounding a red circle containing the sword (bottom centre-right). It's only been in the last fifteen years and our sortee in the Premier League that spawned large scale production of these badges, many of which are produced by street-sellers and not the club itself.

Thursday 17 February 2011

League One Weekend Preview, Game 29

Back at the Valley for match number six of Chris Powell's reign and the first test of reaction to defeat. We owe Exeter for a late 1-0 defeat in early September and we are long overdue a first-half performance. I am expecting both to be addressed on Saturday. Assuming we can collect three points, the focus will turn to results elsewhere...

AFC Bournemouth v Huddersfield Town
With seven wins and two draws from the last ten, Bournemouth are sustaining and unlikely looking challenge that has withstood the loss of manager eddie Howe. they have the best home record in league One and Huddersfield could be scalp number 12 at home.
Prediction; 2-1

Bristol Rovers v Oldham Athletic
The Latics will be favourites to beat bottom-of-the-table Bristol Rovers here. Rovers could do us a favour and I am going for them to do just that and nick this.
Prediction; 2-1

Charlton Athletic v Exeter City
A draw will be a bad result for us. We have to bounce back if automatic promotion remains a conviction of the players. We have four of the next six at the Valley and we must be looking to win them all (Carlisle, Tranmere and Brentford to come). If we can at least remain unbeaten, we should still look healthy for a play-off place come the tough run of matches from mid0March to mid-April.
Prediction; 2-0

Colchester United v Walsall
Walsall bounced back from their home defeat by Bournemouth last Saturday to see off fellow strugglers Dagenham & Redbridge in the week. they desperately need to keep their revival going but Colchester should ask too many questions here.
Prediction; 2-0

Hartlepool United v MK Dons
Hartlepool will be looking for a home double this week and I can see them repeating the Tuesday night result. It would slow MK Dons down and put Pools back on the play-off fringes.
Prediction; 1-0

Peterborough Tranmere Rovers
Posh will be confident of three points here against lowly Rovers. Goals are almost guaranteed at London Road and they have a play-off place to defend.
Prediction; 3-0

Rochdale v Southampton
Rochdale could actually leap-frog us if they win this and we managed to lose.  I don't see that happening but this could be an uncomfortable trip for the Saints.
Prediction; 1-1

Swindon Town v Carlisle United
It was ten games ago that Swindon ended Phil Parkinson's managerial career in   SE7 and they haven't managed a win since. They are in the drop zone and desperately need three points to stem the bleeding and fight their way out of an unlikely looking relegation. I can't see mid-table Carlisle putting up too much of a fight if Swindon can open the scoring.
Prediction; 2-0

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Enamel badges - the 92

It might be a trainspotterish but I am a Charlton fan after all and I make no apologies for the fact that I love an enamel badge. For thirty years I have taken the opportunity to pick up club badges on my travels. This hasn't always been as easy as it sounds.

In the not-too-distance past, most clubs outside the top flight didn't necessarily run Club Shops and there was very limited on-line shopping. Away games in the 80's often meant being escorted in and out of grounds with little or no opportunity to get around to the other end of the ground in search of a badge. There was often no choice with many clubs only stocking one badge at a time. Some of you will remember that Charlton only stocked one enamel badge for what seemed like ten years and even that wasn't an accurate replica of the club crest. More on Charlton badges on Friday.

Anyhow, I am nearly there and with the anticipated addition of Bury and Exeter, I will complete my original 92. When that's complete, I'll have to move onto something else, although I already have forty-odd years of match programmes! Now where's my anorak...

Tuesday 15 February 2011

Hartlepool United 2 v Charlton Athletic 1

A disappointing defeat but one which comes as no great surprise. We didn't play well by all accounts and had no rub of the green. Nathan Ecclestone's equaliser was short-lived in the second-half and Hartlepool deserved the win.

Games in hand rarely deliver the maximum points but it's difficult to see beyond that on paper. This evening's other games went about as well as they could have with MK Dons and Oldham both losing games at home that they shouldn't have. Only Peterborough's win at Yeovil spoiled the card but we remain in fifth place and have missed the chance to overhaul Southampton and Huddersfield with games in hand.

Pressure on for Saturday then and we really need to go and win at Notts County on the following Friday evening if we are to stay close to the hunt for the second automatic promotion place. The test of a good manager is often how his side responds to defeat, so let's see.

League One Midweek Preview, Game 28

There are nine matches in League One this evening. It's easier to account for the teams that aren't in action - Brighton, Huddersfield, Southampton, Rochdale, Brentford and Plymouth. Yes, that's three of the four above us so a perfect opportunity to move above Southampton and level with Huddersfield on points. Crucially, it would leave us three points behind Bournemouth, who appear not to have dropped a point since Christmas, with two matches in hand. With Exeter facing a nervy visit to a 20,000+ Valley crowd on Saturday, this evening's test could be a pivotal match in our fortunes. It is also an opportunity for us to create our best sequence of the season - five successive wins which would undeniably cement the perfect managerial start for Chris Powell. 

It won't be easier but it should be far more comfortable than the original fixture; Hartlepool have only picked up five points from their last 27 and an unlikely looking play-off place appears to have slipped from their grasp. They did beat Colchester 1-0 in their last home game but have shipped four goals in each of their last three aways and have never managed anything than a defeat in their handful of encounters with the mighty Addicks. 

I hope I am not over-playing this, but I really fancy our chances tonight. Here's where the rest of the action is...

Bristol Rovers v AFC Bournemouth
the Pirates could do us a huge favour tonight. Trouble is, the momentum is all with the Cherries and they might fancy this shortish jaunt to Bristle. 
Prediction; 0-2

Exeter City v Swindon Town
Another close geographical encounter and a vital one for both of these clubs. Exeter's fading chances of play-off hopes is in stark contrast to struggling Swindon who are facing a relegation battle that they surely won't lose? They have gone into reverse since costing Parky his job on an night at the Valley when we made them look like Brazil. A point apiece looks on the cards.
Prediction; 1-1

Hartlepool United v Charlton Athletic
I'm inclined to say we need a more attacking performance away from home and  a 90 minute showing etc. However, if we can shut down the first-half it might give us the platform to focus our efforts to win the game. 
Prediction; 1-2

MK Dons v Leyton Orient
The revived O's could do the Old Pals Act here and take something from MK. Whilst we may be looking optimistically upwards, we should probably be looking more realistically downwards and this game might be more relevant to our end-of-season finish than Bournemouth's game at Bristol Rovers.
Prediction; 2-2

Notts County v Colchester United
Colchester haven't been clinical enough this season and it looks like a mid-table finish on the cards. County need the points more and this could be their eighth home victory of the campaign.
Prediction; 2-1

Oldham Athletic v Carlisle United
I have a colleague at work who hails from Carlisle so have been following their fortunes more closely than many others. It's hard to know what's gone wrong for them but they looked distinctly out-of-place in their early season challenge. They are now only three points above fourth-bottom Swindon and this looks like a step too far.
Prediction; 2-0

Tranmere Rovers v Sheffield Wednesday
I thought Wednesday were hasty in replacing Alan Irvine and it looks like they are paying the price for that. they are now fully nine points off 6th and they are doing a Charlton. Tranmere can climb above them with a win.
Prediction; 1-0

Walsall v Dagenham & Redbridge
Walsall are fighting the Death Rattle and who better than fellow-whipping boys, Dagenham & Redbridge. Dean Smith to grasp a possible lifeline?
Prediction; 2-0

Yeovil Town v Peterborough United
Darren Ferguson will be desperate this evening for a rare Posh away win. Anything else will increase the pressure on a man expected to breathe play-off life back into this side. A point might be as much as they can expect here.
Prediction; 1-1

Monday 14 February 2011

Hats off to Pawel

You have to hand it to Pawel Abbott. He has endured a poor start to his Charlton career since arriving with great expectations of being a 20-goal a season striker, but that hasn't dimmed his enthusiasm or determination.

He made a telling contribution in Saturday's important win over Peterborough and despite a strong deflection, his goal was greeted with euphoria by his team-mates who mobbed him on the floor. Pav is also quoted in the Newsshopper saying that he hasn't thought about leaving since he arrived and that he doesn't blame fans who have given him stick because he has deserved it.

He has dropped down the pecking order to fifth as things stand but there has been no sign of petulance from Pawel. Instead, he has waited for his chance under Chris Powell and taken it. I haven't been impressed with him to date but if he's prepared to tough it out and have a real go, then that's good enough for me.

I was also impressed to hear that he engages directly with fans via Twitter. Rather him than me!

Sunday 13 February 2011

Bad choices

Sometimes in life we make bad choices and they hurt us. Lured once again by an unrealistic and almost unnatural optimism for Scotland's 6 Nations chances, I committed to the three home fixtures as well as the England match at Twickenham. Fortunately, that meant only missing one Valley match and that was yesterday's.

After the glorious three-try scoring defeat in Paris, the omens were good. The Welsh were coming with their tails firmly between their legs and we had the opportunity to inflict a second defeat upon them and put us firmly back in contention. Whilst I went to great effort and expense to be at the match, the Scottish players didn't really bother. They were there at kick-off, of course, but went into hiding almost immediately. I had to sit and endure the Welsh rack up 16 points without really trying. It was a pathetic Scottish showing and one which didn't improve after half-time. Oh yes, we huffed and puffed but our forwards under-performed again and the backs were chronically short on width and ambition. An error-strewn performance was summed up near the end when Dan Parks slipped as he took a penalty and the ball skidded embarrassingly along the turf.

Two games gone then and Scotland will attempt to avoid the Wooden Spoon and a spanking at Twickers. Frankly, I can wait.

I managed to forget my mobile yesterday so avoided any news of Charlton until I got back to my hotel room at Midnight. The League Show or whatever it's called was on, and I managed to stay awake for another hour to see the Valley action unfold. I am glad I was wrong about the score in this one too, although it sounded like another half-showing. If Powell can get us up to a 90 minute performance, we could be a serious threat.

Thursday 10 February 2011

League One Weekend Preview, Game 27

Chris Powell's fourth match in charge is another Valley date, this time with Peterborough United. After his impeccable points and clean sheets start, not to mention good fortunate, the main question for me is, can we play any better or will the good luck hold?

Our 5-1 win at London Road earlier in the campaign looks something of a freak result. Posh have averaged three goals at home per match and lowered their opponents colours on 10 occasions, so it really was a win against the head. From what I saw of the highlights, it looked like a match where everything we tried went in and we took control early on. Lee Martin had a his best game in red and Johnnie Jackson was in the middle of his scoring streak.

Posh haven't exactly been great on their travels and it was a frequent public complaint of Gary Johnson that too many of their players went missing away from home. I remember the years in the 70's when we did exactly the same. Anyhow, Darren Ferguson is back at the helm and whilst I don't consider him to be Sir Alex's gift to football management, he has been relatively successful at London Road in the past and appears to have spurred a push for the play-offs.

I will miss my first home of the season because I will be at Murrayfield and I am hoping it's one of those results that trickles through and makes me regret having booked for the rugby but I fear we may run out of good fortune.

Brighton & Hove Albion v Hartlepool United
Hartlepool will have a go here but Brighton are flying and have the confidence of an F A Cup run. Seagulls three points closer to the Championship.
Prediction; 2-0

Charlton Athletic v Peterborough United
Should be a comfortable home win but I can see us conceding a couple and we might not do enough down the other end. Surely we won't get another squeeze in terms of penalty decisions for and against or disallowed goals? Reality check.
Prediction; 1-2

Colchester United v Swindon Town
Swindon look like they may be holed below the waterline and Danny Wilson must be feeling rather uncomfortable. They are now in the drop zone and this looks like another defeat to go with the 3-0 reverse they suffered at Orient in the week. Did they really put four past us at the Valley?
Prediction; 2-1

Dagenham & Redbridge v Yeovil Town
The Daggers won't get a better chance than this for vital survival pints but they look lost to me and a draw will be a moral victory for Yeovil who would maintain an eight point lead over their opponents.
Prediction; 1-1

Huddersfield Town v Oldham Athletic
A draw or an away win would us but I can't see past Yorkshire handing out a beating to Lancashire. Huddersfield are pressing again for second place and the heat is on.
Prediction; 2-0

Leyton Orient v Bristol Rovers
The O's are on a rare roll and are relishing their F A Cup visit by Arsenal. Nine games unbeaten and this should be ten.
Prediction; 2-0

MK Dons v Brentford
Brebtford are rallying again but their form so far this season suggests it won't last. We could do with another shock here but MK Dons are breathing down our necks and should have more incentive here.
Prediction; 2-1

Notts County v Exeter City
County have the incentive of climbing above the Grecians here with a win and after Exeter blew their chances of a JPT Wembley final in the week, their heads could well be down.
Prediction; 3-0

Plymouth Argyle v Tranmere Rovers
Relegated from the Championship last year, Argyle are perilously close to the relegation places once again and their off-field woes flirting with being wound-up can't be helping matters. Even Peter Ridsdale this week jumped ship confirming their was no longer any serious of cash from Far Eastern investors. This is a real six-pointer and home advantage could be enough.
Prediction; 1-0

Rochdale v Sheffield Wednesday
The second Lancs v Yorks fixture of the weekend and I'll go with Lancs to even things up here. Who would have predicted Rochdale five points clear of Wednesday come February at the start of the season? Wednesday are in danger of blowing their play-off hopes this season and they may yet rue the premature decision, in my view, to out Alan Irvine.
Prediction; 2-0

Southampton v Carlisle United
After losing at home to Walsall last week, surely there is no hope for Carlisle at St Mary's? Unlike most of the rest of us, Southampton don't have a midweek fixture coming up and risk dropping down a place or two in the next week, so they will need three points here to avoid falling out of the play-off places.
Prediction; 3-0

Walsall v AFC Bournemouth
Dean Smith has steered Walsall to their best run of the season - four games unbeaten. Even I would like to see them make it five on Saturday but I Bournemouth are competing strongly with their south coast rivals for automatic  promotion and might set the Saddlers back here.
Prediction; 1-2

Wednesday 9 February 2011

The Carling Nations Cup

It crept up on us largely unannounced yesterday. Some thought it was the return of the Home Internationals - what irony! The Republic of Ireland took on Gary Speed's first Welsh side in Dublin at the impressive looking new Aviva Stadium and beat them comfortably by three goals to nil.

The Aviva stadium is the ground-up replacement for the dilapidated old Lansdowne Road ground which sits in south-east Dublin and hugs the DART train line as it heads out of the city  towards the coast and the seaside town of Bray. It's an impressive looking structure, although it holds just under 52,000 so I am guessing it may be a little bit underwhelming when you are actually there in comparison to some of the other more recent big ground builds like Wembley, the Emirates. and the Olympic Stadium. The fact that there were under 20,000 there for the game last night suggests the Irish may have called it right in terms of sizing.

Back to the Carling Nations Cup then, and if you are English, you could forgiven what wondering what it's all about or when England were likely to feature. Well, if you are unclear, England declined the offer from the Scots, Welsh and two Irish FA's to join a new Home International tournament so they have taken their ball and set-up their own competition. 

The English FA have more lucrative fish to fry but given the disappointing performance of their national side in recent competitions, I wonder whether this might have been a good competition for England as well as a generous way of helping their smaller home associations. Perhaps the 4 Nations will become the 5 Nations at the next time of asking?

I can't say I have been able to muster much enthusiasm for it so far. It's a strange time to hold the starting couple of games when the league season is in full flow and when the rugby 6 Nations is going on and with the rest of the fixture scheduled for May.

Having said that, a good number of my Scotland-travelling friends are making a trip over to Dublin for one of the Scotland matches, although their motivation appears, primarily, to clock up an "away point" so it might improve their chances of getting a ticket  the Autumn's hottest tartan footballing fixture in Spain as we renew European Championship qualifications. I will be travelling to Spain but going to Dublin first just to improve my chances of a ticket is a no-no.

It you are interested in tuning in, the games are all evening kick-offs as follows...

Wednesday 9th February - Northern Ireland v Scotland

Tuesday 24th May - Republic of Ireland v Northern Ireland

Wednesday 25th May - Scotland v Wales

Friday 27th May - Northern Ireland v Wales

Sunday 29th May - Republic of Ireland v Scotland


Monday 7 February 2011

The run-in - twenty left

We have 20 games left and looking at how they fall, it looks to me like there could be three phases; the next nine which look like they could yield a haul of points, followed by seven which could be a lot harder and then four very winnable games to finish.

We have five homes in the next nine - Peterborough (8th), Exeter (13th), Carlisle (15th), Tranmere (21st) and Brentford (14th). The four aways are at Hartlepool (11th), Notts County (19th), MK Dons (7th) and Dagenham & Redbridge (24th). I think it reasonable to assume we could expect to win four or five of these, draw two or three and lose a couple which would give us a return of 15-17 points.

The telling spell could be the seven that follow; we have three at the Valley and four away. The aways are at Bournemouth (2nd), Rochdale (9th), Southampton (4th) and Oldham (6th). The homes against Southampton (4th), Leyton Orient (16th) and Huddersfield (3rd). We invariably play better against stronger opponents and much may depend upon just how we sit when we start these matches against Southampton at the Valley and how much confidence we are playing with. If we could pick up 18 or more points in the next nine, we might find we are better positioned against Bournemouth, Southampton, Oldham, Rochdale and Huddersfield which would mean that draws could be better results for us than them and wins positively six-pointers. Fourteen points or less is likely to see us playing the closest of these opponents under significant additional pressure and draws might suit them better than us and defeats could seal our end-of-season fate.

So, working on the low-side of say 14-15 points from the next nine, we could do well to get seven points from the seven that follow. That would leave us on 65-66 points with four left against Bristol Rovers (a), Rochdale (h), Walsall (a) and Hartlepool (h) and that means a finish of maybe 72-74 points which would most likely mean missing out on the play-offs (Huddersfield finished in 6th last year on 80 points).

Lots of 'assumptions,' 'ifs' and 'maybe's' but that would feel about right to me from the football we have played so far this season. The fact that we have not played particularly well at home and our inability to compete for more than one half in the majority of matches would deserve little more. We have also ridden our luck so far, and particularly of late and as these things tend to even themselves out, I am anticipating some misfortune in the games to come.

That, of course, ignores the Powell-factor. No immediate signs of a significant resurgence of confidence or any changes in our tactics or style of play, but we have won three-on-the-spin without conceding and Bradley Wright-Phillips is looking like he's settled immediately. That could be just enough for us to up the ante, grow in confidence and play more sustained and attacking football which just might see us finishing like a train and if not catching the automatic places, at least we would enter the play-offs with the all-important momentum that's needed to see you through.

Sunday 6 February 2011

Yeovil Town 0 v Charlton Athletic 1

The excitement of the Italy v Ireland 6 Nations encounter kept me from tuning in to CAFC Player for most of the match yesterday, so I was following the updates on Charlton Life. It was all so very familiar - another first-half in which we didn't muster and effort on the opponents goal and another game at The Huish played in grim conditions, this time a howling wind and biting cold. 

Nil-nil at the break then and and expectation of better to come in the second-half. Bradley Wright-Phillips missed a great chance with 800 baying Charlton fans  on tenterhooks behind the goal. Just as all of our rivals were taking or increasing leads up and down the country, Wright-Phillips headed home from a Johnnie Jackson corner to make it two from two. With a Dailly handball in the box being missed by the officials, that was enough and before the end, leads let slip by Oldham and MK Dons meant our third successive win moves us up to fifth in the table with games in hand.  

Peterborough scored four again at home in the late game against Southampton  although the Saints matched that to deny either side the three points. Posh have now scored 45 goals at home, a couple more than we have managed home and away. They bring their distinctly average away form to the Valley next week where I suspect we may get the biggest test so far in terms of Chris Powell's managerial reign. 

I don't believe we can keep winning games playing the way we are and it's high time we put in a full shift in a higher tempo match where more than a handful of players really perform to the best of their ability. I really hope that is next week or I can seeing Peterborough putting a spoke in our wheels and avenging the freak 5-1 trouncing we handed them at London Road.

Friday 4 February 2011

6 Nations....yeeesss!

Northern hemisphere international egg-chasing is back. It kicks-off this evening in Cardiff and I can't wait. My annual cycle of alternating hope and despair for my countrymen in this competition has managed to peak again which experience tells me is woefully misplaced. For me, that's the secret of the 6 Nations. 

I have fully come to terms with the fact that my homeland of five million simply doesn't have the resources and national competition to sustain a footballing side any longer that is capable of seriously competing in the game on the World stage and we have even struggled to qualify for Europe's own championships. The success of the Scotland rugby team is actually not much better although due to limited competition, we are guaranteed our place in the rugby World Cup finals and can still believe we are only several players short of giving the world a run for their money. We won't win the 6 Nations this year but we can compete and we can bloody some noses in the process. The ability of all of the competing sides, Italy-included, to also do that means that the competition is just that and fans from all competing nations can really throw themselves into it and every game is of interest. I think that is why it's not uncommon to find overseas visitors having made the trip to watch a fixture that their own side isn't playing in simply because it's the day before or after their game and they can squeeze in both. 

The camaraderie helps, of course, and the whole-day experience of 6 Nations rugby is simply so good I am always surprised more football fans haven't been drawn to it. The sights, sounds and carry-on are unbeatable. Win, lose or unlikely draw, rugby fans know it's just a game at the end of the day and pretty much anything can be put into perspective over a shared drink and a bit of banter.

My tickets for the Calcutta match at Twickers arrived this morning, so I will get to see all of Scotland's games this year with the exception of the game in Paris tomorrow. 

Thursday 3 February 2011

League One Weekend Preview, Game 26

The curse of matches in hand afflicts us as we struggle to catch the eight sides above us in League One. We have one, two or three games in hand and the "what-if" scenarios will continue to be played out for another couple of months before we have fully caught up. Points on the board are invariably worth more than those in hand and I fully expect my learned New York Addict friend to share the actual value of these imminently (C'mon Brad, I know you will know!).

In the meantime we can only concentrate on the next game and that means Chrissie Powell's side trying to beat Yeovil down in the West Country on Saturday. I won't be there but I will be tuned into the commentary as I watch the start of the 6 nations unfold. It's a real test for our boys and I am going for us to get an unlikely third successive clean sheet and goals to win the game.

That would set us up nicely for Posh next week at the Valley. Having scored five at their place, many will see it as a foregone conclusion but I don't see it that way and suspect free-scoring Peterborough could well break Powell's winning start if we can indeed continue the sequence on Saturday. 

In the meantime here's the rest of this week's games...

AFC Bournemouth v Leyton Orient
The Cherries are flying at home and have taken Eddie What's-his-name's departure in their stride. We could do with the O's turning in another away winning show like at Swansea in the Cup but somehow I doubt it.
Prediction; 2-0

Brentford v Plymouth Argyle
Andy Scott got the tin-tack this morning and the Bees should be in disarray for this one. Nicky Forster could be in temporary charge for Saturday.
Prediction; 1-1

Bristol Rovers v Brighton & Hove Albion
These sides could be two divisions apart next season. MK Dons beat Rovers in Bristol in the week and Brighton should be confident they can do the same.
Prediction; 1-2

Carlisle United v Walsall
Walsall have a new manager and picked up a point at Notts County to go with their morale-boosting 6-1 thrashing of Hopeless Rovers the other week. A long fruitless journey is just what they need to remind themselves they will be playing Morecombe and Cheltenham, next season.
Prediction; 3-0

Exeter City v Huddersfield Town
This promises to be a feisty encounter and the Grecians could do us a favour here by putting in another strong home performance.
Prediction; 3-2

Hartlepool United v Colchester United
Like Exeter, Hartlepool could do us a favour and keep Colchester off our tails. They crashed 4-0 at Oldham last week but I'll take a much better performance here.
Prediction; 2-0

Oldham Athletic v Dagenham & Redbridge
Oldham are back in the play-off places and will be pumped-up for this one against the doomed Daggers.
Prediction; 3-0

Sheffield Wednesday v MK Dons
Alan Irvine was dumped by Sheffield Wednesday this week after shipping five at Peterborough in the week. Wednesday are struggling to maintain their challenge and they need to sort themselves out quickly. Gary Megson is being lined-up for another shot but they might suffer from the disruption of sacking Irvine.
Prediction; 1-1

Swindon Town v Rochdale
Swindon are now fourth bottom and they have played more games than those about them. They might be playing with a bit of fear but a win here would be another result for us.
Prediction; 2-1

Tranmere Rovers v Notts County
Tranny must be eyeing survival again and this looks eminently winnable against a County side who have scraped only two wins on the road.
Prediction; 1-0

Yeovil Town v Charlton Athletic
Come on you Reds! The league's top scorer's away from home go again here and we have genuine competition up front. Wright-Phillips and Eccleston might well force a goal from Anyinsah or Benson. Charlton up to seventh.
Prediction; 0-2

Peterborough United v Southampton
This must be a banker for both sides to score. I could easily see these sides sharing seven goals but I'll be conservative and go for 3-2.
Prediction; 3-2